E-pinions

How I Learned to Love Doing Performance Appraisals – And Other Lies

By BLR Founder and Publisher Bob Brady

BLR’s publisher on why he loves … and hates … doing performance appraisals.

Writing performance appraisals is something I love doing!

That’s because every time I struggle through one, I repeat the wisdom that I’ve heard again and again (and truly believe) that says, “Here’s a chance to level with people and give them the opportunity to build on their successes and address problem behaviors.”

There’s just one problem. I’m lying. Though I do like the idea of doing appraisals, and I do believe they are one of the most important things a manager does, they just aren’t fun, especially when the review has to document poor performance.

My personal performance appraisal odyssey is unusual. In my 35-year career, I’ve never received an appraisal. Not once. How can this be? Well, I started BLR when I was 30 years old, and in my prior jobs, my managers simply never did them. (They were good people and good teachers, but poor managers.)

As a result, it took some time to realize how important appraisals are. An effective manager delivers regular feedback and backs it up with formal appraisals on a regular basis. Those who don’t, create time bombs, waiting to explode.

No Performance Appraisal, No Retroactive Pay

At BLR, appraisals are taken very seriously. They have to be done twice a year in a specified format and completed on time, and they have to include both the employee’s self-appraisal and the supervisor’s assessment. The supervisor’s manager then has to sign off on the appraisal. The annual review is a full-fledged affair and ends with a salary adjustment. The 6-month is a shorter “review of the review.”

Supervisors often argue that twice a year is too frequent. I always respond, “If we miss your review, or do it superficially, you are justifiably hurt. Why do you think your subordinates feel differently?”

People need positive reinforcement, and they need to know things they should correct. In fact, their emotional well-being requires this. If they don’t feel connected to their jobs and their bosses, their performance will suffer. The appraisal is a way of generating positive energy.

There are other reasons for regular appraisals, of course. Though appraisals are not required by law, they are a must-have if you’re ever taken to court over your disciplinary actions. Appraisals are your documentation of problems, so make sure that poor performance is not “sugarcoated” for the sake of being “nice.”

Since no one wants to do appraisals, they are often late. That makes payroll a nightmare because of retroactive raises. Over the years at BLR, we’ve used various strategies to get managers and supervisors to comply.

One involves our senior managers (including me as CEO) getting a monthly list of whose appraisals are late. If the list gets too long, we decree that as of (pick a date 60 days out), there will be no retroactive raises. So if a manager misses the date, the employee loses. Unfair? There are arguments both ways.

Effective? Yes! Managers quickly understand that we are serious and that their troops will be very unhappy if the boss fails to comply. The punishment is severe enough–and the problem easily enough rectified–that the problem quickly goes away. (There are, of course, occasional extenuating circumstances when we waive the rule.)

In a future column, I will write about the “perfect” appraisal form I’ve devised. (Well, it will be perfect some day. Right now, it’s still “darned good!”) Meanwhile, I’d like to know your thoughts on appraisals. Use the “Share Comments” link or send me an e-mail at hrdailyadvisor@blr.com.

And of course, have a happy Labor Day and a great HR week!

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  • jschleifer

    Bob:

    Thanks for a superb article. You are so absolutely, positively, spot-on right. Doing reviews is not necessarily fun. They take time away from your “real work”. They could be risky. They’re potentially confrontational. They’re stressful.

    I speak as one who, earlier in my career in a Fortune 500 company, had perfected appraisal procrastination to an art form. There were other far more pressing things for the benefit of the business… I could negotiate with Human Resources for an extension… I could then renegotiate when the new deadline came up… etc. It could be the review of one of my best people… didn’t matter: I’d go for the extension.

    But it’s a great feeling to do one, do it right and see it work. Things that have been simmering come out in the open, and can be dealt with. Time bombs, previously waiting to explode, are defused — or, if necessary, exploded in a controlled environment. Recognition for ongoing excellent work is suddenly verbalized — and appreciated. You remember wonderful things that your direct report did, you trot it out in the review along with some learnings to come from it, and everyone benefits.

    You can use appraisals as a tool for career planning, for objective setting, for departmental continuous improvement, for any of a number of other things.

    The list of benefits goes on… and on.

    Yes, all companies should have a process for doing appraisals. It should be structured, it should have deadlines and it should be taken seriously by everyone in the company. The deadlines should be treated as near-sacrosanct, not to be trifled with.

    I like your own process of twice a year. I think the key point there is that appraisal should not be an event, but a process. If it’s twice a year, or monthly review meetings, or open-communication weekly staff meetings where everyone mixes it up and the boss follows up on sensitive issues with post-meeting one-to-one counseling — whatever it is, the key point is that appraisal occur, that it be congruent with the style and culture of the organization, and that it not be left to random chance.

    Thanks for a great article.

    All the best,

    Dan Ruchman
    Ruchman & Associates
    San Diego, CA

  • jschleifer

    Editor’s note: The following poster requested anonymity

    Dear Bob Brady:

    Your article this morning (9/1/06) was appreciated and positive. There is only one thought to offer from this HR Manager’s (albiet limited 9 year) experience when it comes to natural consequences for management’s untimely completion of appraisals.

    The most effective natural consequence to ensure managers complete their appraisals on time is to base the manager’s pay increase on their timely completion of their duties (including performance appraisal completion) without providing retroactive compensation increases, while simultaneously allowing their subordinates retroactive pay increases upon completion of the performance appraisal. This tends to be a very effective motivator for the manager to ensure performance appraisals are more than an administrative task to check off their “to do” list to simply satisfy their supervisor (or their HR department).

    This is ethical, since we – as a management team – do not financially reward our employees when they are untimely in fulfilling their responsibilities. We should also prohibit ourselves from being rewarded when we are untimely in appraisal completion.

  • jschleifer

    Editor’s note: The following poster requested anonymity.

    Hi, Bob:

    I enjoyed your very timely article on performance appraisal!
    I work in the HR department, and we were told that we will be receiving our
    mid-year review in September.

    I always felt that this is really late, since the company rule (given by
    HR) is that mid-year appraisals are completed and communicated by the end
    of July. However, HR has always been late, and no one complains since we
    are the rule makers.

    This has become a trust issue for me personally.
    Any advice?

  • jschleifer

    Editor’s note: The following poster requested anonymity.

    As I agree with some of your comments in your column on “Appraisals”,
    I have found another way to provide routine feedback that I believe is
    more effective and that is the use of an old technique called “Goals
    and Objectives”. To be brief, I require every supervisor/management
    employee to complete a formal set of Goals and Objectives quarterly
    that are only objective (truly measurable) in nature. This is
    probably the precursor to metric management. It requires the employee
    to measure current conditions, maintain accurate records and report on
    efforts to meet goals and make improvements. The four column format
    is simple: Category, Sub-category, goal/objective, results. Goals and
    Objectives are presented to peers and immediate managers to assure
    that goals and objectives are consistent with others G&O’s in the
    department. Goals and Objectives are reviewed monthly to monitor
    progress and mentor employees on how to effect improvements.
    Categories may differ between departments to reflect a department’s
    primary purpose, but, in general, include turnover, budget
    performance, reduction in waste, productivity improvement, capacity
    utilization, efficiency improvement, cost reduction projects, capital
    projects…. to name a few. With over 35 years of manufacturing
    experience, I find the G&O process to allow frequent reviews of an
    employee’s performance. There are many successful systems, but, the
    most successful are supported by senior management and are
    consistently applied.

  • ampackcorp

    Hi Bob –
    This article mentioned that in a future column you would write about the “perfect appraisal form”. I am the HR Manager in a small 50-person company & my president was very interested in this appraisal form. Have I missed the follow-up article?